newton and doyle – the allure of magic, black and white leaves, the brain’s preconceived body plan

Isaac Newton (25 December 1642 – 20 March 1727)  and Arthur Conan Doyle (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930) were men of entirely different ages in terms of human knowledge, but they were both thinkers in the rationalist tradition. Logic and proof defined most of their world. Yet they also had something else in common, a weakness for the the mystical. Newton, The Last Magician

Keynes sought papers on any topic at first, but eventually concentrated on one niche—Newton’s alchemy. Few people knew the father of modern science had dabbled in alchemy; but the more Keynes collected and the more he “brood[ed] over these queer collections,” the clearer it became that alchemy wasn’t a niche to Newton at all. It was, in many ways, Newton’s life work—more vital to him than physics or mathematics ever was. This Newton “was not the first of the age of reason,” Keynes concluded. “He was the last of the magicians.”

[  ]….Still, the illicit nature of chymistry doesn’t completely explain why Newton concealed his research (Boyle didn’t). There’s no delicate way to put it: Almost everyone who knew him found him disarmingly weird. He had a mean temper, probably never had sex, and suffered at least one raving breakdown, during which he wished death on Locke, one of his few friends. Thoughts of sin tormented Newton. As a young man he wrote a letter addressed to God outlining every peccadillo he ever committed, faults ranging from the touchingly innocuous—“making pies on Sunday night”—to the abusive and creepy—“punching my sister” and “threating my [step]father and mother . . . to burne them and the house over them.”

In a post early on in this blog I mentioned Carl Zimmer’s article on how alchemy started out as magic, but did evolve into the science of chemistry. While Newton’s experiments frequently had an element of magic about them, he did produce some scientific results. Some of his behavior, like purposely putting a needle into his eye socket ( not his eye) were far from based on science, at least in the way we understand the scientific method today. The needle experiment and starring into the sun for hours would be more like something we’d see in a Jackass movie or something a precocious kid would do on a bet. Sherlock Holmes in Fairyland

Perhaps the ordinary was just too painful for Conan Doyle. Many draw a connection between his zeal for the supernatural and his despair following the deaths of his son Kingsley and brother Innes by influenza in the closing days of World War I—two passings among many in his family over the course of a hard dozen years. The hope that we may contact the dead via séance (which Conan Doyle allegedly did) is enough to test even the most rigid materialism; the Great War itself, full of senseless attrition and biological atrocity, was a trauma that prompted a search for answers. Conan Doyle would write eloquently about his doubts in the supremacy of science and his stirring sense of a world outside its grasp:

Victorian science would have left the world hard and clean and bare, like a landscape in the moon; but this science is in truth but a little light in the darkness, and outside that limited circle of definite knowledge we see the loom and shadow of gigantic and fantastic possibilities around us, throwing themselves continually across our consciousness in such ways that it is difficult to ignore them.

Such is the tone of The Coming of the Fairies (1922), which takes a broad survey of the unexplained in nature but mainly serves to reproduce and argue the veracity of the Cottingley Fairy photographs, five ethereal exposures taken by young cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths that show the girls at play in the woods with winged sprites. The first photos surfaced in 1919, when Elsie’s mother brought them to a meeting of the Theosophical Society, an umbrella covering all manner of occult and paranormal interests, with the loose objective of universal fraternity.

The fairies were hat-pinned cardboard imitations—drawn by Elsie, a talented artist—from Claude Shepperson illustrations featured in Princess Mary’s Gift Book—a compendium of fantastic tales that included a Far East story from, of all people, Arthur Conan Doyle.

As Sherlock Holmes fans know – logic and deduction was all. When asked why they thought Doyle believed the Cottingley Fairy photos were real in an interview in 1985 Elsie and Frances said,  “I can’t understand to this day why they were taken in—they wanted to be taken in.”

black and white tri-tone dust, dirt and leaves


Just considering how strange our dreams are, where does all this crazy kinetic imagery come from, it is a small step to wonder how much stuff is in our brains we do not know in the way that we perceive conscious knowledge, Phantom Finger Points To Secrets In The Human Brain

Which is very strange. Normally, when a limb or body part is removed, the brain re-imagines what was lopped off, and recreates what was once there. Lose your arm, you imagine it back. Lose a finger, back it comes.

In RN’s case, her phantom grew a finger that wasn’t there. For the first 18 years of her real life, she didn’t have an index finger. Then out of the blue, or rather, out of her brain, she suddenly produced an imaginary one, and she’s still got it, 35 years later.

What doctors Ramachandran and McGeoch wanted to know was: How did this happen? How do you get a phantom finger when you didn’t have one in the first place?

This patient was born without a finger because of a malformed hand. She lost the hand and like a lot of people that lose limbs she had phantom limb syndrome. Only she imagined and had pain in a finger she was not born with. It is best to read the article with the illustrations –  with that said, it appears as though the brain is prewired to have a perception of a complete body. If by way of a birth defect a person lacks a finger or hand their brain still sees it and can imagine having pain in the hand or finger it thinks should be there.

19th century surgical equipment


COCOROSIE – WE ARE ON FIRE (OFFICIAL VIDEO). Some great mystical imaginary in this video that fits in with the post.

A marvel light, a daze of gold
Tears of a grass widow
When I was young, I thought I’d be
more than just a fantasy
I wanna be this, I wanna be that
A big black dog with the soul of a cat
The blue-eyed doe, inside on me
He won’t leave, he’s buried deep